Theater Lab Series offers artists unique venue to develop work

The Poor Dog Group presents “Satyr Atlas” at the Getty Villa as the first of the Theater Lab Series this season.

By Homaira Shifa / Special to The Malibu Times

In the unique setting of the Getty Villa museum in Malibu, performance artists are given the opportunity to develop, rehearse and retool works in progress, using the space at the villa as artists-in-residence.

To gauge their work, the public is invited to see these performances as part of the Villa Theater Lab Series, which begins its new season Feb. 4 with the Los Angeles performing arts company, Poor Dog Group.

Each team of artists-in-residence is given time, space and production support by the museum, both during and in advance of the period of residency, allowing for far broader and deeper experimentation than would a traditional play-reading format.

“The lab series is designed to give artists who are still in the developmental process a platform to perform,” Norman Frisch, project specialist for the Getty Villa said. “It encourages artists who are experimenting with classical culture.”

A forum for the reinterpretation of classical theater, the Villa Theater Lab Series features new translations of Greek and Roman plays, as well as contemporary works inspired by ancient literature.

The Poor Dog Group is a Los Angeles-based performing arts collective company founded in 2007 with a mission to continue ensemble-based American theater and create new radical space for performance, said the group’s artistic director, Jesse Bonnell.

“We create original devised work and reexamine existing text,” Bonnell said. “We have done a lot of original performance work.”

The Poor Dog Group ensemble will preview excerpts from “Satyr Atlas,” a new satyr play on ancient themes written and directed by Bonnell, based on texts by Euripides.

Half-man and half-horse, the wild and badly behaved satyrs were legendary companions of Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine and theater.

“In ‘Satyr Atlas,’ we immerse ourselves in ancient satyr drama, imagery and lore to reinvent the term ‘satyr play,’” Bonnell said.

“The are really terrific and very funny,” Frisch said. “Their work is spectacular.”

The villa’s theater programs are part of the J. Paul Getty Museum’s broad spectrum of public programming and events. Live performances of classical and classically based drama offer insight into the social, cultural and political realities of life in ancient Greece and Rome.

The Getty Villa Theater Lab Series began when the museum reopened in January 2006. All performances take place in the auditorium at the Getty Villa. The predominant focus of the villa’s public programming is theater, rooted in Greek and Roman plays of antiquity.

“The program has grown each year,” Frisch said. “Right now it includes performing artists, but it will grow in the future to include media artists, and film and video artists.”

Frisch said the Theater Lab Series has shown to be very successful with some artists touring their production across the country after leaving the villa and eventually reopening at a larger theater.

This spring, the villa will present a wide range of types of artists who are interested in Roman and Greek genres, Frisch said. The series will be experimenting with classical, musical and comedy performances.

More information about the performances can be obtained online at

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